This year’s sermon focus during Lent in our church centered on “The God We Want You to Know”. The idea being that many of us, particularly those who have had our faith shaped in the Bible Belt, have developed some convictions about God that are both Unbiblical and untrue. These ideas that many of us have somehow come to believe – beliefs like God is vengeful, not forgiving and God is aloof and removed, not involved in our lives – can become destructive forces in our lives, in the lives of our families, and in our relationship with God. And so throughout this holy season, we explored several of these ideas and tried to present a more faithful picture of the God that we see and experience in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
And if we are going to get Easter and Resurrection right, one of the things we have to get into our heads and our hearts and our souls is this – resurrection starts now. One of those beliefs that a lot of people have picked up over the years is that resurrection is about what happens after you die. Of course, Christians do believe in the resurrection of the dead and that the Cross-Resurrection event fundamentally changes the dynamic about what happens when you die.
After all, as Paul wrote, “if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either…If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (I Corinthians 15:16-19).
Resurrection is fundamentally life-changing, it shapes the tough end of life conversations that we have to have and gives us hope in some of the most difficult moments of our lives.
The Gospels, however, bear witness to an even more powerful truth – that resurrection isn’t about delayed gratification. Believers don’t have to wait to experience the transformational power of resurrection. Instead, the disciples experience enlightenment and assurance of God’s presence on the road to Emmaus. Thomas doesn’t have to wait to have his questions about how God works answered. No instead, Jesus allows him to touch the wounds of the one who was crucified for his sake, and ours. In an even more dramatic moment, Peter doesn’t have to wait forever to experience forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration after his Holy Week failures. No, resurrection changes things for the better – right here and right now.
And that’s why it is such a big deal. That’s probably why we see so many visitors on Easter Sunday. Part of it, of course, is cultural and that the Easter proclamation has become the precursor to the Easter lunch. But there’s something else at work, too. Our guests on Easter Sunday want the same thing to be true that we do, they need the same things to be true that we do – that God isn’t distant, that we aren’t on our own, and that resurrection hope isn’t reserved just for the hospital room or the graveside.
We need to know the truth of the empty tomb – that there is hope beyond what is holding us down. We need to know the truth that our past doesn’t determine our future. We need to know that the sin we see all around us isn’t definitive, that somehow there is hope in the midst of violence and fear and hatred and division and destruction within our cities and our nation and our world, and our hearts and our families too.
We need to know, like Peter, that relationships can be restored, no matter how broken they seem and how finished they feel. We need to know that when our marriages don’t look like the dreams we had for them. We need to know that when friendships fade away and betrayals and sin distort and destroy the beautiful connection God dreams for us.
We need to know, like Thomas, that our doubts aren’t fatal and that our questions can be answered by the real presence of Christ. We need to know that when we feel like we’ve missed out on the good life. We need to know that when the hopes we had and the ones we believe God had for our life have vanished into what feels like thin air.
We need to know, like the disciples, that God can feed and nourish us and send us on to do great things. We need to know that just because it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it can’t happen. We need to know that despite the despair and depression that the long loneliness isn’t our story. We need to know that despite how dark it feels, that God can create beauty and hope in my story, in your story and in all of our stories.
Ultimately we need to know, like generations of people who have looked to the empty tomb for hope, that despite the struggles and the sin and the pain and the hurt that we experience in the ordinary things we know as life – like work and friendships and family and church and vocation – that Jesus is alive. And that that somehow makes a difference.
This past Sunday we sang that truth together in the words of Brian Wren’s beautiful hymn, Christ is Alive. He writes elsewhere that to sing is to pray twice. As we sang, we prayed these words: “Christ is alive! No longer bound to distant years in Palestine But saving, healing, here and now, and touching every place and time.”
Because Jesus is alive, God can do a new thing. Because Jesus is alive, God is doing a new thing. Because Jesus is alive and God is doing a new thing, hope isn’t lost. It isn’t just a hope that comes in the future or is something that is stuck in a far-away land in the history books. No, hope is here, right now, in our real life, in the real stuff of the real existence you and I are trying to hold together right now.
Hope isn’t lost, we just have to go find it. Seek, he once said, and you shall find.
Not someday, but right here and right now.